This question came up in an English second language test paper.

A:Why didn't you tell me Brian broke the window? B:_____________________________________

The intended answer was - B: He begged me not to tell you about it.

Answers in dispute- 1B: He begged me not to tell it to you. 2B: He begged me not to tell that to you.

For me 1B and 2B sound incorrect, but I cannot justify why. Any help?

Background - I am an English conversation teacher at a Korean middle school. I don't teach grammar, but because I am the only native English speaker I am often asked to clarify specific grammar issues.

  • 1
    The ones that sound wrong with tell sound right with say -- and the other way around. The two verbs work slightly differently in a way that non-native regularly confuse.
    – tchrist
    May 2, 2019 at 3:50
  • The most natural reply would of course have been just “He begged me not to” or perhaps “He begged me not to tell you”. I find all three options given here rather unnatural, though 1B and 2B of course much more so. 2B would (in a different context) be perfectly normal as “He begged me not to tell you that”, but the to-dative is very close to being ungrammatical to me with that as the object. May 2, 2019 at 9:12

1 Answer 1


I agree with you that the answer should be "He begged me not to tell you about it."

1B: He begged me not to tell it to you.

This is wrong because the verb "tell" uses the recipient as the object, unlike how "say" uses the message as the object. You tell someone (about something), but you say words (to someone).

2B: He begged me not to tell that to you.

This is a bit closer, but by phrasing it using "tell that to you" it implies that the speaker is telling lots of other things to you, and was only being asked to omit this particular one.

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